THE poignant diaries of a Great War soldier and his sweetheart reveal the contrasting emotions of lovers parted by conflict.
Mold historian David Rowe, who is running an ongoing project to piece together Flintshire’s role in the First World War, was recently handed the diaries of Lydia ‘Liddie’ Hughes and her husband Charlie of Mold, who served in the Cheshire Regiment.
Mr Rowe said: “They make an interesting read. Charles took a risk even writing the diary as it was frowned upon in case it fell into the hands of enemy.
“Despite that, it goes into some considerable detail.
“In contrast Liddie, although loyal to her diary, tended to write short entries about the weather and updates from the news service.
“She records the death of Field Marshal Kitchener (the British military leader who drowned in 1916 when his cruiser hit a mine).
“In some ways, she might have been more aware of what was going on in an international sense than Charles.”
Barbara Salisbury, 59, of Flint, is Charles’ granddaughter and allowed Mr Rowe to transcribe the diaries.
She said: “I haven’t read them all. Charles was my grandfather and Lydia was actually his first wife.
“He met my grandmother later – so Liddie and I are not related by blood.
“But I’ve read more of Liddie’s because quite honestly, I find what my grandfather wrote quite painful sometimes.”
Liddie’s diaries pick up in 1915, a year after the Great War broke out.
Her husband was a career soldier who joined the army in 1907 and was already a sergeant by the outbreak of the Great War.
He started writing his diary in 1916.
Charles was born on Long Row in Mold and Liddie came from Birkenhead.
The diaries provide a striking contrast between life at the Front and what it was like for those left behind.
Charles was serving in India on January 1, 1916 when began the diary, and celebrated the first day of the new year by visiting the reserve grenadiers and ardently wishing his company could capture a key site.
Liddie, in contrast, left a short entry telling of how she simply visited the doctor.
Both play down the horrors of the war through matter-of-fact language.
On January 2, Charles noted: “Start making roads ready for our troops to retire in a couple of days time. Nearly got hit by shrapnel. Roger gets hit by pieces of shell.”
His terse style continued even when discussing the most horrendous circumstances.
He wrote: “January 11: Just heard good news British vacated Cape Hillis on the 8th, one man wounded only, it seems impossible to be true
“January 12: The news of the evacuation of Cape Hillis is correct, one casualty British, French nil. Brilliant work. Thank God it’s over in that hell hole.”
Mrs Salisbury said: “I can’t imagine what he saw. I’ve got a book about the Cheshire Regiment, and it fills in some of the gaps in the diaries.
“He saw retreating soldiers, served in Galipoli and, as he was ill a lot of the time with his stomach, he spent time in hospital – so he saw what happened to the troops.
“That’s why he described it as a hell hole.”
By contrast, Liddie was left at home.
Both Mr Rowe and Mrs Salisbury suspect Liddie was in service, though her job was something of a mystery.
She was a regular churchgoer and frequently met friends for tea in the afternoon.
Mrs Salisbury said: “Liddie’s diaries were written in a bit of a code, because if her employers had known she had a sweetheart, they wouldn’t have liked it.
“But they do corroborate each other.”
Charmingly, Liddie wrote on March 16: “Sent box to Charlie and received a photo from him on April 20 – a case of messages crossing in the mail.”
But on April 26, after travelling thousands of miles, her package arrived in India.
Charles wrote: “Received a parcel from Liddie with some good things to eat. Terrible hot today, about 103 deg. in shade.”
Sadly, the following day, he wrote: “Am warned for fatigue at hospital. Carrying wounded, saw some horrible sights.”
The diaries also mark bitter-sweet homecomings, as in September 1916, when Charles went on leave and met Liddie in Mold.
They went on long country walks, attended church and visited friends.
On September 26, two days before he left Mold for more active service, Charles noted: “Went for a walk at night. Liddie looks sad.”
A week later, back on post, he added: “Went on guard. Felt lonely.”
Charles remained taciturn about the nastier parts of service, such as close-quarter bayonet fighting, withstanding heavy shelling, illness, heat and the repetitive breakfasts of canned food, but he noted small annoyances.
On November 19, he wrote: “Came off guard duty. Had no sleep owing to women drawing water all night. They make more noise talking than a lot of suffragettes.”
Charles’ diary finishes on December 31, where he revealed he saw in the New Year in crouched in a dug-out.
He wrote: “Morning arrives, have breakfast. Bully beef and biscuits, make tea.
“We move at 1.30 pm. Wonder are we for the trenches? Tramp, up we go, up the gully, up to our ankles in mud. Our guns keep up a hot fire.
“Turks rather quiet. At last we stop and have to take over some dug-outs. Was warned I’m on duty all night – up the gully myself, one corporal and three men have to go in the dark.
“Turks shell gully all night and send search lights. Not reached our destination. 40th Brigade Dump have to guard ammunition and stores. Turkish shells drop quite near but we are safe in a neat little dug-out. Wonder what they would say at home if they seen us four crouched in this hole and the sentry outside?”
Charles returned to Britain after the war and Liddie married in 1919, but the marriage was tragically cut short.
Mrs Salisbury said: “I understand Liddie was carrying twins when she had an accident on her bicycle. She crashed into a wall and died.
“Later, my grandfather met my grandmother at a football match, and they had my mother, who they adored. Charles died in 1955.
“He went through so much during the First World War and after. He lost his brother in the war.
“At one point, we think he served in a firing squad.
“There was a lot of dysentery, and one of the men had disobeyed orders due to illness. I think that really affected him.”
Despite this, Charles played an active part in the Mold community when he returned home and became a founding member of the Mold and District Ex-Servicemens Club, known as the ‘Bottom Club’, although he didn't speak much about the conflict.
Mrs Salisbury said: “Reading his diaries does make me feel closer to my grandfather.
“I think the diaries are quite precious. They are two sources that support each other, and I got in touch with Mr Rowe because I didn’t know what to do with them. I wanted to know how to preserve them.
“They are a piece of history.”
l Anyone who has any First World War information or memorabilia, David Rowe will be available at Mold Library on May 22.
Residents are invited to share their stories and any family history from the period around the 1914-1918 war.
See full story in the Leader